Today marks a full year since the successful occupation of Wheeler Hall last fall. We’re generally averse to nostalgic politics, but at the same time, we can’t help but glorify a period in which this occupation was the fifth in two days on UC campuses. Last year when we resisted the 32 percent fee hike, we shut sections of our campuses down; this year, our approach was different. Last year, UC campuses were more consistently mobilized following the November Regents’ meeting; this year, organizing was limited to a smaller core of students and workers and respectable turnout was harder to come by. The urge to slip into nostalgic politics is quite powerful, especially given the apparent shift in mobilization from last fall to this. At the same time, we implore you to resist this urge.
There is no reason to be demoralized. The turnout on the Berkeley campus for October 7 was comparable to that of the November ’09 strike rally, and actually exceeded that of March 4. Why then was there no Wheeler v. 2.0? If objective conditions were no less ripe for militant resistance to the fee hikes than last fall, why wasn’t this objective possibility realized?
A great deal of this likely has to do with elevated levels of repression on California campuses. We know from our comrades at SF State that the pigs are still on the prowl there on a regular basis. At Berkeley, students who organize against the cuts are noted by UCPD and are continually surveilled and threatened. Yesterday, a contributor to this blog passed a group of cops who were discussing the presence of one student on Sproul, and how “that guy is always where the action is.” It’s no wonder they targeted him; his image was on the front page of the New York Times the previous day in the context of the Regents’ meeting protest. Another student who gave extensive interviews to mainstream media outlets after being repeatedly pepper sprayed at UCSF actually had UCPD officers show up to his house the next morning and issue a veiled threat. And we could go on. Students have been effectively criminalized on the Berkeley campus to the point where this writer is tailed by motorcycle cops on a regular basis and sometimes even followed to his office.
This level of police repression coupled with the conduct sanctions certainly doesn’t resonate with the image of Berkeley as the home of the Free Speech Movement or whatever other marketable cliché you’d like to insert here. It has now been a full year since the Wheeler occupation, and only one student has been formally tried by the Office of Student Conduct (OSC). Of course, the hearings for all students involved were supposed to be completed (according to the OSC’s own code of conduct) within 75 days of the alleged incident, but as we now know, the timeline for hearings was unilaterally suspended by an OSC official by secret directive and only made public after the fact. In any case, the process has now cost UC Berkeley over $23,000, and we have well over a dozen other students left to be tried. With students being slapped with sanctions such as “stayed suspension” for a semester or two — violate the code during that semester and automatically face suspension — it’s quite clear that they will be less inclined to engage in egregious breaches of the code.
With that said, there is an embryonic energy on the Berkeley campus that reminds us a bit of the weeks between Wheeler and Live Week last year. Of course it isn’t being utilized in the same way, but part of this has to do with the lack of an episode of the sustained sort of militant struggle we saw occur outside of Wheeler last November 20. The level of student-cop antagonism at the Regents’ meeting was certainly reminiscent of clashes outside Wheeler, but due to the inaccessibility of the UCSF campus turnout never exceeded 400 or so. Moreover, the cops were prepared; at past Regents’ meetings they are ready for minor skirmishes, whereas on Wednesday they were ready for war. This barrier to further turnout, combined with the level of police preparedness and the fact that union buses were planning to leave by 10:45 am at the latest, limited the potentiality of further escalation.
The real question though remains how we translate this embryonic consciousness and experience of student-cop antagonism into the next Wheeler. To reiterate: this does not mean that we must relive Wheeler, or as one of our comrades aptly put it, embark on a reunion tour. No, in order to realize the legacy of Wheeler, we must leave the dead to bury their own dead and instead figure out how we are going to cultivate mass militant escalation over the course of the remainder of the semester. This past week was fantastic, and we are thrilled to see serious struggle and active exposure of the state’s coercive arm once again become a key part of the anti-budget cuts fight.
But it was not enough; no, it was just the beginning…
Let’s show these pigs that when they threaten our own, they are not welcome on our campuses. UCPD off our campuses! Fire Kemper immediately!
Let’s show these bureaucrats that we are not fucking ATMs, nor are we quantifiable means of keeping the Regents’ bond ratings high. Rescind the 32 % and 8 % fee hikes! Enough is enough!
And to the armchair critics at the Daily Cal who are too dense to make the connection between these two points themselves, this is not about positing an eclectic set of demands. When consent breaks down, the armor of coercion rears its head. UCOP forces us to pay these inflated fees — and now “tuition” — at the barrel of a gun. UCPD violence is not “excessive,” but the norm. Just ask the dozens of UCPD officers working overtime and the dozen or so Alameda County Sheriffs why they happened to be on our campus last week.
To those readers on campuses where the objective possibility for mass militant action is present, do not squander this opportunity. Organize with your comrades, flyer on a regular basis, build for official strikes wherever possible, agitate workers and establish student-worker bonds of solidarity, plan rallies and actions to keep the flame alight — do not let this die.
We’re not worried. As we’ve learned in the year since Wheeler, objective possibility is not always realized. This time around it appears it was not, though “this time” is the present and therefore not yet over. After this week we’re all exhausted. Go home, rest, and recover over Thanksgiving, but don’t forget that when you come back, we’re going to be building for a no vote on a bullshit UAW 2865 contract. Let’s send this shit back to the bureaucrats and begin building for a strike!
From ex-struggle to next struggle, the university belongs to those who use it!